Lansing Township plans legal action against Ingham County clerk over annexation proposal
Lansing Township plans to file legal action against Ingham County Clerk Barb Byrum after she approved a ballot proposal that could turn part of the township over to the city of Lansing.
Earlier this month, the Lansing City Council voted to include an annexation proposal on November’s general election ballot. If approved, it would make the Groesbeck neighborhood fall under the city’s authority. But Lansing Township officials oppose the proposal.
They say the city is misinterpreting part of a state law known as The Charter Township Act. Section 34 of the act defines how townships can be annexed.
Section 34.3 reads: "Notwithstanding subsection (1), a portion of a charter township, which charter township is contiguous on all sides with a city or village, may be annexed by that city or village with the approval of a majority of the electors in that portion of a charter township."
Kathy Rodgers, Lansing Township's treasurer, says the community shares borders with several other Greater Lansing communities including the city of East Lansing and Delta Township.
“The entire township has to be surrounded by a city if they want to annex, and the entire township of Lansing is not just bordered by the city of Lansing," she said.
The city of Lansing's interpretation of the law is that a part of the township can be annexed as long as the area it's being annexed into completely surrounds its borders. This is the case for Groesbeck, as Lansing borders every side of the neighborhood.
My impression is that there have been times where cities like Lansing have taken creative view of the statutory scheme and have been able to pull it off.Daniel Rosenbaum, Michigan State University Professor
Rodgers adds it's not just about what the township sees as Lansing's misinterpretation of state law. She says the Home Rule City Act forces the city of Lansing to file an annexation resolution with the State Boundary Commission and the County Commission so that the agency can host a public hearing regarding the proposal.
"The city has completely ignored the rest of the law involving annexations, both the Charter Township amendments and the Home Rule City amendments," she said.
But according to Lansing officials, the city is not required to file a resolution with the State Boundary Commission or the County Commission.
"Our city attorney says we do not have to file with either commission because we are working under the Charter Provision Act," says Scott Bean, spokesperson for the city of Lansing.
Daniel Rosenbaum is a professor of local government law at Michigan State University. He says the ballot proposal will probably still go forward.
“Even if the city is technically wrong in its read of the language of 34.3, the township might not be able to protect itself from annexation by relying on that technicality," Rosenbaum said. "There are some exceptions under the Home Rule Cities Act that allow annexation via an alternative route, without going through the Boundary Commission."
He also says governing bodies like the courts typically take a hands off approach in these kinds of cases.
"My impression is that there have been times where cities like Lansing have taken creative view of the statutory scheme and have been able to pull it off."
He adds larger cities in the state have a track record of being able to find ways of making annexation happen. It's in part how Lansing Township has become so fragmented in the first place.
"Historically, back in the day, cities had a lot of power to annex and they could sort of piecemeal carve out what were called strip annexations. ... They could sort of decide exactly where they were gonna get voters to approve an annexation," he said. "They would just pull strips of unincorporated land from townships just as a growth strategy," he said.
They would love to have Groesbeck because it's money, and they don't have to do anything.Kathy Rodgers, Lansing Township Treasurer
Rosenbaum says from the township's perspective, annexing Groesbeck is detrimental. While from the city's perspective, it becomes a way to grow their tax base.
"But from our perspective or the public's perspective, we start to wonder at some point whether this is all just getting too inefficient, because we've got these different governments delivering services right next door to each other," he said.
Rodgers says she understands why the city of Lansing would want to annex Groesbeck considering that the city already services the area's utilities, including water and electric.
"It's already had the separation of the sewer, the water and sewer lines, which they're doing all over the city. They're separating the sanitary from the storm drains," she said.
"They already did that in Lansing Township 20 years ago, and Lansing Township residents paid for that. So, they would love to have Groesbeck because it's money, and they don't have to do anything."
As far as Ingham County Clerk Barb Byrum is concerned, the city of Lansing complied with the requirements to include the proposal on the ballot.
"The only remedy for the township of Lansing at this point is through the courts," Byrum added.
For now, Groesbeck residents will have the opportunity to decide whether to annex their neighborhood into the city of Lansing come November's election.
If Groesbeck is annexed, the area's residents would be required to pay city of Lansing property taxes. This means a tax rate of 17.45 mills in comparison to the township's rate of 10.6 mills.